Friday, May 2, 2014

For Prime P-Bruins, Saturday’s Games 5 Is Keep Playing Or Keep Practicing

Just as he did in Tuesday’s 6-3 barn-burner, Ryan Spooner will strive to prolong his AHL tenure with the Providence Bruins Saturday night. No. 1 goaltender Niklas Svedberg, who ceded the crease to rookie Malcolm Subban for Game 4, will do the same if head coach Bruce Cassidy elects to install the elder stopper.

The Springfield Falcons will host the deciding dance in the best-of-five Eastern Conference quarterfinal at MassMutual Center. If the P-Bruins polish the upset, they will occupy themselves for no less than another week and a half.

In that event, there is potential for the best-of-seven second round of the Calder Cup playoffs to outlast the parent club’s endeavor. The Boston Bruins enter their own Saturday tilt facing a 1-0 second-round deficit at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. Where that series stands, the familiar “if necessary” asterisk makes its first appearance a week from Saturday for Game 5 on May 10.

On the other hand, if the Falcons seize their third and final lead, Spooner and Svedberg are the two most logical Boston Black Ace shoo-ins. They, if anybody, figure to latch on with the Spoked-Bs’ Stanley Cup run in a practice-only capacity if Providence’s 2013-14 slate evaporates this weekend.

If all goes according to plan, Spooner and Svedberg will need no further fostering before assuming a permanent Boston roster spot after the next training camp. No shortage of Bruins bystanders scratched their heads when the second-year professional pivot even returned to Rhode Island this past winter.

The 22-year-old Spooner saw action in 23 NHL games over the 2013-14 regular season. That included a meaty stretch of 20 straight contests spanning Dec. 8 through Jan. 20. He swelled his stats to 11 points while flaunting spurts of promise on both sides of the puck as a stand-in on the third line.

Yet when Boston’s roster started restoring normalcy, he was one of the sacrifices to the farm. That move was to everyone’s benefit, though.

At the time of Spooner’s reassignment on Jan. 28, Bruins bench boss Claude Julien told the Boston hockey press corps, “He has been really good for us, but at the same time he still has some things to work on. We can look at his point production; at the same time he has no goals, so he’s got to learn to start taking more goals to the net.”

Three months and 32 AHL contests later, Spooner has buried eight goals, all in March and April. Those include four at even strength, one shorthanded and two in the first four games of the postseason.

On the subject of playoff productivity, while Spooner is averaging a point per game in the series, those four points have come in the form of two goal-assist variety packs. What’s more is that both of those productive outings occurred on home ice in Games 1 and 4.

But Spooner charged up his share of variety packs in a variety of venues over the course of the regular season. One of those happened to be on a March 15 visit to Springfield. That night, he buried an unassisted shorthanded strike to saw a 3-1 deficit in half, though the Falcons wrested away a 4-2 final.

The fact that Spooner and linemates Craig Cunningham and Matt Fraser perked up in the face of elimination Tuesday night yields additional cause for organizational encouragement. Points or not, win or not, an identical effort on the road Saturday would embolden a welcome sign as Spooner’s development progresses.

Should the Baby Bs bow out, at least a week’s worth of NHL practice would be a decent consolation prize to bridge into the summer. But another four-to-seven games of authentic extramural action—postseason, no less—would be another worthwhile test.

The former scenario would entail more room to slow down and hear the front office’s evaluations. The latter, however, has no developmental substitute in that there is genuine competition from genuine opponents.

The same concept applies to Svedberg, who went 1-1 in rubber games as a first-year North American professional last season. It is one thing to hone oneself under noticeable supervision in practice. It is another to do so before bright lights, fans, a running clock and adversarial shooters.

Regardless, if coerced into a choice, one can likely declare that Svedberg is striving to stave off his Providence swan song more than Spooner.

Chad Johnson’s one-year Tuukka Rask apprenticeship in Boston is unlikely to last beyond this summer’s free agency. The makeup of the Bruins goaltending pipeline calls for Subban to assume the top slot in Providence while Svedberg graduates to back up his fellow Scandinavian in 2014-15.

With that being said, one more solid game, if not one more playoff round of AHL action cannot hurt the drive to stamp the graduation diploma.